Submitting to Freedom
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Submitting to Freedom

The Religious Vision of William James
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Bennett Ramsey
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Ramsey presents a new analysis and interpretation of the religious views of the nineteenth-century American philosopher William James. He argues that James was primarily motivated by religious concerns in his writings and that this fact has been obscured by the artificial scholarly division of his "philosophy," "psychology," and "religion"--a symptom of the professionalization which James himself strenuously resisted in his own time. Ramsey believes that James is best understood in his historical context, as a representative of a society and culture struggling to come to terms with modernity. Much of James's religious work is a direct reflection of what has been called "the spiritual crisis of the Gilded Age," a crisis which Ramsey examines in illuminating detail. James's religious vision, in Ramsey's view, hinges on the recognition and acceptance of "contingency"--the knowledge that we are at the mercy of change and chance. With so little else to rely on, James believed, people must learn to submit freely and responsibly into one another's care. Ramsey reintroduces James's thought into the contemporary discussion, and puts forward the kind of religious alternative that James was pointing to in his work: not worship, but acquiescence in a world of mutual relations; not obedience to authority, but conversion to the freedom of responsibility.